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TX Legislature Education Policy Contradicts GOP Rhetoric and Party Platform

Texas CapitolThe vast majority of Texans don’t want federal legislators and government bureaucrats controlling the funding and administration of healthcare, hospitals and doctors. Why then, do Texans continue to allow state legislators and government bureaucrats to centrally control the funding and administration of education, schools and teachers?

We have all heard the republican campaign rhetoric to ‘fix’ public education; to stop ‘throwing money at the problem’, reduce state mandates, restore local control, and empower teachers and parents. Interestingly, the current session has been quite a contradiction. Public education funding has been increased and old state testing mandates, among others, have been replaced with new, more ‘effective’ measures. The Texas legislature, dominated by a Republican led majority, has resisted nearly every substantive policy measure that would expand educational opportunities for thousands of children who are currently trapped in failing, government- run schools.

There are over 100,000 students on charter school waiting lists, desperately trying to escape the system. The public charter cap, currently limited to 215 statewide, will most likely be raised, but only marginally. Legislators are currently favoring a slight, annual raise, as opposed to abolishing the cap altogether. This means that only 3% of those trying to leave the government-run system will be given permission to do so by the legislature. The context of the cap debate is shamefully ironic, considering the legislature has already designated another government agency, the TEA, to manage the approval of new public charters. The charter cap, a state mandate which restricts the TEA’s discretion, is yet another redundant example of bureaucratic non-sense.

Several legislators, such as Sen. Dan Patrick, have supported measures to provide tax credits to private organizations who benevolently donate money to subsidize school tuition for poor, and often minority children. Even though this measure would not divert existing public education dollars away from students in public education, there is little to no support with House Republicans. Another education reform advocate, Rep. Scott Turner, has proposed a measure that would sponsor public school children to seek private alternatives that better meet their needs, not through a government mandated quota, but at the voluntary discretion of the child’s parents. Again, this measure has little to no support with House Republicans, leaving poor, struggling children trapped in failing schools.

Educational proficiency at early ages is fundamentally important to both academic achievement and, consequently, overall success in life. According to a Casey Foundation Longitudinal Study, economically disadvantaged children who are non-proficient readers in third grade are 8 times more likely to drop out before high school graduation. In other words, 88% of 19 year old drop outs were non-proficient in reading in 3rd grade. Furthermore, 90% of welfare and 75% of food stamp recipients are high-school dropouts. Over 85% of kids in the juvenile justice system are illiterate, with 70% of prison inmates unable to read at a 4th grade level. The study, which has been extensively cited by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), found that proficient third grade readers of all races-white, black and Hispanic- graduate at similar rates. Conventional wisdom in regards to race and academic achievement are dead wrong.

Is has become clear, as stated by House Representatives on the Public Education committee such as freshman Bennett Ratliff, TX-115, that the legislature will move swiftly to replace old government education mandates with new, arguably more effective policies. The house has already passed a measure that will streamline state testing requirements, as an example. Unfortunately for the 315,000 minority students in failing schools, and millions more in under-performing environments across the state, the policy initiatives that will immediately expand educational choice to those children are dead on the house floor, or in committee.

The widely accepted argument against government administered healthcare is also applicable to government-run education. In Texas, as with many other states, the system is predicated on the notion that a bi-annual legislature, a central board of administrators, and layers of managerial bureaucracy, are capable of knowing what is best for millions of Texans, attending thousands of schools, across 1265 independent school districts. Perhaps we need new legislators who understand that decentralizing the education system, by empowering parents and local teachers, will create competition and efficiency in education that will drive innovation and progress, resulting in higher levels of educational achievement for all students? Nearly 85% of Texas Republican primary voters in the last election, agree.
Ross Kecseg

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